Everybody wants to be immortal. Anyone that says any different is lying. To go through the years, to see all, to do all and to be free of death and disease, who can honestly say they have never thought of it? Dr. Georges Bonnet thought about it and with his partner Professor Ludwig Weiss, decided to do something about it, creating a process through which he has become immortal and able to live beyond the years allotted to him. It does come at a price though and that is a formula and a procedure that must be taken every ten years if he is to continue living. That operation requires the replacement of a gland in his body and the only way to find a replacement is from someone else and thus, when bodies start turning up, Georges comes under suspicion.
The Man Who Could Cheat Death is a wonderful little horror film that sees Anton Diffring as a scientist who has cracked the secret to eternal life. He is a smart man, a bold one and he will do whatever it takes to keep on living, even if he should have to murder a thousand women. He feels that he is far too important to die, that he offers the world something that it is lacking and without him in it, it is a much poorer place. Diffring is perfect in the role of the arrogant doctor, and it is wonderful to see him go from adoring friend to crazy doctor to a man in love and back again. His moods are wild and unpredictable, though it could be due to the fact that he is dying and in need of the operation that will save his life and let him live for another ten years. Facing your fate as it rushes towards you can make the best of men do strange things. There have been many portrayals of the mad scientist over the years, from Boris Karloff to Peter Cushing and more often than not, their madness is unassuming at first until it is all-consuming. Diffring’s Georges follows the exact same path and it proves that you do not always need to rewrite the book; you simply have to excel at reading it.
The talented Hazel Court stars as the love interest of the good doctor with Arnold Marlé and Francis de Wolff also appearing. A little surprising is to see Christopher Lee in a supporting role and the man provides his usual stellar performance. In this film, he plays the doctor who is tasked with saving Georges life, though when he refuses, Georges manages to persuade him with a little blackmail. What follows after that is a bit of twist that ends the film on a great bit of action and visceral horror.
The film was not the most frightening to be had out of Hammer’s canon, but it did have its moments with most of them coming from Diffring’s performance more than anything else. Written by Jimmy Sangster and directed by the great Terrence Fisher, the two would go for a more subdued horror than what was usually delivered or seen in one of Hammer’s productions. There were moments when special effects were called for, specifically those times when Georges needed to take his formula or that spectacular ending which recalled those fantastic monster movies of the past, but in all, it was great to see them try something just a little bit different. As the studio was usually wont to do, most, not all, of the filming took place in one location, that of Diffring’s house as the budget for the film was not the highest that it could have been, but watching the complete project, you would never know as it was so well done. Moody and atmospheric at times, creepy at others and just a little disturbing, The Man Who Could Cheat Death is a great little horror film that is always entertaining and a nice early effort from the studio as it made its foray into the world of terror.